Studies of Irish migration to the United States recently have placed renewed focus on the experiences of the Irish in the American South. In Rethinking the Irish in the American South: Beyond Rounders and Reelers, an interdisciplinary collection of essays, editor Bryan Albin Giemza has produced a worthy addition to this literature. Contributors to the volume include two persons particularly responsible for the resurgent interest in this area, Kieran Quinlan and David Gleeson. Quinlan’s “After Strange Kin: Further Reflections on the Relations between Ireland and the American South,” is found in “Questions of Historical Definition,” the first of three sections in the collection. As its title suggests, the essay reflects upon the impact of Strange Kin: Ireland and the American South (2007), Quinlan’s influential challenge both to facile, religion-based categorizations of Irish migrants to the South and to frequently ill-informed comparisons between the geographic entities of Ireland and the South. Completing the opening section of this volume are William Ferris’s “‘A Lengthening Chain in the Shape of Memories’: The Irish and Southern Culture” and Patrick Griffin’s “Irish Migration to the Colonial South: A Plea for a Forgotten Topic,” both of which offer a nuanced view of Irish migration to the southern states.
The second section, “Manipulating Culture: Influence, Reconsidered,” will resonate with persons interested in literary and cultural studies. Geraldine Higgins’s superb “Tara, the O’Haras, and the Irish Gone With the Wind,” investigates the element of Irishness in the racialist chemistry of Margaret Mitchell’s famous text. Next is Kathryn Stelmach Artuso’s “Transatlantic Rites of Passage in the Friendship and Fiction of Eudora Welty and Elizabeth Bowen,” an insightful, if [End Page 518] at times repetitive, exposé of the relationship between two celebrated writers: Welty, a Mississippian, and Bowen, a Dublin-born Anglo-Irishwoman. Rounding off the section are two illuminating essays, “Shared Traditions: Irish and Appalachian Ballads and Whiskey Songs” by Emily Kader and “Black and Celts on the Riverine Frontiers: The Roots of American Popular Music” by Christopher Smith.
It is to the final section on “Ideology and Ambivalence” that Gleeson contributes his chapter, “Another ‘Lost Cause’: The Irish in the South Remember the Confederacy.” In this essay, Gleeson, author of the seminal work The Irish in the South, 1815–1877 (2001), describes how the Irish in the South engaged in Lost Cause rituals, so that they “and their offspring overcame a mixed war record and suspicions of their foreignness, becoming part of what it meant to be southern in the New South” (p. 179). He sets the stage nicely for Giemza’s “On the Uses of Slavery: The Irish in the South and Civil War Rhetoric.” This absorbing and groundbreaking essay uncovers the previously obscured Irish roots of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, author of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous 1857 Dred Scott ruling. The essay examines the significance of Taney’s Roman Catholicism with regard to the slavery issue, and presents a fascinating account of observations by Irish who visited the United States during the Civil War. Giemza observes that “invented rhetorical parallels between Ireland and the American South . . . deployed by the likes of Irish revolutionary John Mitchel . . . had real traction among the Southern Irish ascendant” (p. 189). Ironically, Conor O’Callaghan, whose “Smoke ‘n’ Guns: A Preface to a Poem about Marginal Souths, and Then the Poem” concludes the collection, indulges in similarly misguided invention. In equating the Irish Republican Army with the Ku Klux Klan, O’Callaghan displays a historical revisionism just as blinkered as that in which Mitchel engaged more than 150 years earlier. This chapter seems an incongruous choice for the collection’s “Coda.” Yet it does not despoil what precedes it; to the contrary, O’Callaghan’s conflation underlines the need for the clarity and the precision amply provided by the rest of the contributors to this fine collection. [End Page 519]
PETER D. O’NEILL is an assistant professor in the...